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Portia's broken promises and missed opportunities

Garfield Higgins

Sunday, June 25, 2017

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Jamaican proverb: Nuh buy puss inna bag

Translation: Do not purchase a pussycat in a bag.

Explanation: Examine carefully whatever you purchase or accept from someone else. In matters of the head and heart, do not be quick to accept a person as the “genuine article” without a thorough investigation.

 

Robert Browning, an English poet and playwright of the Victorian era, once said, “A man's reach should exceed his grasp.” This statement means you should seek to improve your situation; strive to go above and beyond.

No one can honestly say that former Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller did not rise above and beyond her humble beginnings. From Wood Hall in St Catherine to Jamaica House is truly a great human interest story, especially in a country which only 54 years ago was a colony of Britain. When Simpson Miller was handed the reins of the People's National Party (PNP) by P J Patterson her favourability rating was 78 per cent. The late Michael Manley at his zenith had 75 per cent favourability. To date, former Prime Minister Michael Manley has been our most charismatic political leader since 1962. Simpson Miller was effectively given a 24-karat diamond political wedding ring. She gave it away in exchange for fool's gold. Simpson Miller carved out a tragic tale from a script with several possible happy endings.

Why?

Simpson Miller never prepared herself adequately for the job of primus inter pares. I also believe she was a total failure as a prime minister because she was handicapped by an acute political variant of a Richard Nixon Complex.

Recall, Richard Nixon was president of the United States from 1969 until 1974. He suffered with deep personal insecurities. He thought of himself, for example, as inferior to people like the Kennedy brothers because, among other things, they were the children of privilege who attended Ivy League schools.

Nixon, to his eternal credit, conquered some of his major personal demons and became a great foreign policy president with the notable exception of his failures in the Vietnam War. Simpson Miller, however, during her time as prime minister was paralysed by personal political foibles and a morbid deference for those she saw as her intellectual betters. As a consequence, her Administration became a kakistocracy — a form of government in which the worst people had control and power. Simpson Miller, due largely to her own doings, was a powerless, do nothing mis-leader, who twiddled her thumbs while Rome burned.

 

A litany of broken promises

When Simpson Miller took the oath of office on January 5, 2012 she gave the following solemn promises to the people of Jamaica in her inauguration speech: “The mandate which Jamaicans gave the People's National Party on December 29 is a call to action. It is a signal from our people that we, the Government, must earn their trust. It also gives us the opportunity to ease the burdens and the pressures of increasing poverty, joblessness, and a deteriorating standard of living.” (Excerpt from Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller's inauguration speech, January 5, 2012)

One of the first acts the Portia Simpson Miller Administration performed when they took power on December 29, 2011 was to spend $60 million on luxury SUVs for themselves. Did Simpson Miller stop this unconscionable act? Did she lead from the front? No!

Hundreds of millions were wasted on phantom schemes such as the non-starter technology park and film lot fiasco at the abandoned Goodyear Factory in St Thomas. Jamaica's reputation was damaged by mountains of incompetence by numerous ministers in the Portia Simpson Miller Administration. Who was held accountable? Nobody!

Broken promises, ahoy!

When junior minister Richard Azan was reprimanded in a scathing report by the contractor general, and universally condemned by civil society, he was later reinstated in Nicodemus-like fashion, ignoring howls of protests from all sectors of the Jamaican society.

When Anthony Hylton failed the country with the Krauck and Anchor cock-up, and embarrassed our country, he was given political hugs and kisses by Portia Simpson Miller. Hylton, in real terms, achieved almost nothing in the portfolio of investment, industry and commerce. Like his colleagues, he suffered no consequences for his unparalleled inertia.

When septuagenarian A J Nicholson made the dastardly “flexi-rape” remark in Parliament, he did not resign and the prime minister did not fire him. Nicholson remained the majority leader in the Senate, minister of foreign affairs and foreign trade, and a senior Cabinet minister.

When Phillip Paulwell, minister of science, technology, energy, and mining, bungled and botched the 381-megawatt energy project, he was stoutly defended and embraced by Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller in Parliament: “ 'Let me make it quite clear: I have a minister of energy in place. Unless he does something wrong that would affect and impact the Jamaican people in a serious way and the Government of Jamaica [he will not be fired],' Simpson Miller said, in responding to a question from Opposition Leader Andrew Holness.” ( Jamaica Observer, June 4, 2014)

When Dr Fenton Ferguson, as minister of health, made little or no preparation for the arrival of chikungunya, he was defended by the prime minister. Under Ferguson's watch there was country-wide suffering, which cost the economy, conservatively, $7 billion and 13 million lost man-hours of production time, according to data from the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica.

The Simpson Miller Administration spent $350 million to extinguish a preventable fire at Riverton dump and to date, over $100 million cannot be properly accounted for at the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA). The prime minister defended the erstwhile chief executive officer of the NSWMA, her close friend and president of the PNP's Women's Movement Jennifer Edwards, with the words: “She [Jennifer] did not start the fire.”

In October 2012, the country found out that near $200 million of National Housing Trust funds had been used to purchase the Outameni property, ostensibly to establish a kind of 'Emancipation Park' in the west — at least that is one of several explanations the country got. The prime minister said she heard about the matter in the media.

Auditor General Pamela Munroe Ellis later delivered a body blow to the wavering stories by the then board: “The Auditor General's Department says that the National Housing Trust's (NHT) purchase of the Orange Grove/Outameni property in Trelawny in 2013 was a buyout of a bad debt owed by the owners of the property to a local merchant bank.

“The decision to purchase the property followed a letter from the owners, Orange Valley Holdings Limited (OVHL), in November 2012, bringing to the attention of the NHT board its indebtedness and urging it to negotiate a buyout of the bank loan covering the realty.” ( Jamaica Observer, April 22, 2015)

“The purchase was consummated, although a site assessment of the property conducted by the Trust's Construction and Development Unit had indicated 'that the property does not appear to facilitate the NHT's mandate for affordable housing solutions and is more suited for recreational/heritage type facility'.” ( Jamaica Observer, April 21, 2015)

The NHT falls under the responsibility of the prime minister. What action did she take in light of public outrage? She reappointed Lambert Brown, Sonia Hyman, Percival LaTouche, and Robert Budhan — four members of the board that presided over the cock-up.

The House of Representatives is to pay tribute to former Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller when it meets on Tuesday. Simpson Miller was an absentee prime minister. Her tenure is a classic case of the Peter Principle in full bloom.

 

Missive from Peter-John Gordon (lightly edited)

Last Monday, June 19, 2017, at 4:43 pm, I received this e-mail from Peter-John Gordon (pjmgordon@hotmail.com)

I read your article in the Sunday Observer, entitled 'Omar would have served Jamaica better had he stayed in academia'. I have no intention of trying to defend Omar Davies, I am sure he is quite capable of doing that himself. I would, however, like to comment on two issues raised in your article.

“The country must never forget Davies' infamous 'run wid it' speech after the 2002 election, in which he admitted to fiscally imprudent spending decisions to bolster the PNP's chances at reclaiming office.” It is interesting how this speech has been etched into political folklore as people have heard what they wanted to hear. Omar Davies was speaking about the Government responding to Hurricane Lili which had devastated much of the infrastructure of the country. His statement was that, in order to respond, the Government would have to break the fiscal targets which were set. The option of cutting back on some of the planned expenditure which was planned before the hurricane was difficult as contractual obligations had already been entered in for some of this expenditure, and it would have been difficult for private companies which had mobilised on the basis of these contracts to cancel (this is akin to cancelling a dinner party the day before when the caterers have purchased the ingredients and hired people to execute the dinner party). Had Omar Davies stuck to the academic language with which is well versed, instead of speaking in the vernacular, he would not have created this political storm. Had he said that the unexpected shock caused by the hurricane had put the Government in a difficult position with respect to its fiscal targets. That the options were to ignore the people who were cut off because bridges and roads were destroyed, and maintain the fiscal targets, or to respond by cutting expenditure elsewhere, but be opened to lawsuits of contractors who had expended money on the basis of procurement from Government, or to burst the fiscal deficit targets; and that he was choosing the latter there would be no argument. Instead he chose to speak in a manner which his constituents understood, “We going to run wid it.” The fact that an election was near had everyone looking at everything purely through partisan political eyes. Interestingly, the Fiscal Responsible Act which has since been enacted allows the Minister of Finance to break the fiscal targets when there is a national emergency. In 2002 there was no Fiscal Responsibility Act.

The other issue I wish to comment on is your dealing with the financial crisis of the mid-1990s, which you have clearly put at the feet of Omar Davies, again a narrative which some have sought to make a part of the political folklore without an understanding of why what happened did in fact happen, instead seeking to focus on the consequences to some people of a system banking crisis.

I bring to your attention (since you might be unaware of it) an article by Luc Laeven and Fabián Valencia of the IMF [International Monetary Fund] entitled 'Systemic Banking Crises Database: An Update' (copy attached). This article points out that in the period 1976-2007 there were 124 banking crisis in 101 countries very similar to what happened in Jamaica in the 1990s. It is difficult to attribute blame to the Jamaican Government for these banking crises in all these countries. I contend that banking crises occur from time to time as a part of the evolution of capitalism in the same way that there are booms and busts. A few facts are interesting, in Jamaica's case there was no flight of capital from the country, which normally accompanies these crises. Rather there was a flight from bad banks to good banks. None of the foreign-owned banks nor the credit unions were affected, while other financial institutions were. It is difficult to blame the wicket for not scoring runs when others were able to score runs on the same wicket.

You can either try to understand the dynamics which led to the financial crisis in Jamaica or you can choose to try to reinforce the political folklore which might have no basis in reality. The FINSAC enquiry is simply incapable of shedding any light on this issue as the members do not possess the technical skills to make sense of these issues. Instead, the inquiry has sought to parade people telling their story of the extent of their hurt. This is like having an inquire into why a terrible motor car accident happened and the body spends it time talking about the pain of the persons who the car knocked down. Such issues are best dealt with by academic research in universities and places like the IMF.

Regards.

 

I am sure the readers will have their say.

 

Jamaican Proverb: A no want ah fat mek nightingale foot tan so.

Translation: It is not for the want of fat that the nightingale's legs stand so.

Explanation: Do not judge by appearances.

 

Garfield Higgins is an educator; journalist; and advisor to the minister of education, youth and information. Send comments to the Observer or higgins160@yahoo.com.


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